Government petitions call for end to Phoenix pay system, call centres

The problematic Phoenix pay system is being targeted in two official House of Commons petitions that call for a change in how problems are managed or a change of systems altogether.

Yukon woman's petition supported by Liberal MP has enough support to trigger a response

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell says he always sponsors petitions put forward by Yukon residents, even ones that are critical of his Liberal government. ( Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The plagued Phoenix payroll system is being targeted by two official House of Commons petitions — one that calls for a change in how compensation errors are managed while the other one demands the pay system be abolished altogether.

Canadians can force a federal government response to a petition by having it approved by a government clerk, sponsored by an MP and getting at least 500 signatures.

Two petitions about the troubled Phoenix pay system, which has caused tens of thousands of federal public servants to be improperly paid over the last 18 months, are now gathering signatures.

The first went up in late September, launched by Yukon resident Sylvie Gewehr. As of Sunday afternoon, it had just under 1,450 signees.

It calls for the federal government to scrap the call centres it has set up to handle pay problems and instead have compensation workers meet one-on-one with workers with pay problems. 

She's also asking for these compensation officers to be able to access and fix Phoenix data and for people with issues to get clear, written updates on their status.

Carla Qualtrough, minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, spoke to reporters on Oct. 5, 2017 about a report on Phoenix that she says shows the system was "set up to fail." (CBC)

Fixing Phoenix is the top priority for new Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, according to her mandate letter from the prime minister.

Qualtrough said last week the government is hiring more people to work on Phoenix, saying there's no easy or quick fix but the government will make sure it is fixed.

The last update on the cost of managing Phoenix's issues came in May, at approximately $402 million.

Liberal MP backs petition

The petition is sponsored by Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, a Liberal who said he always sponsors petitions when asked by his constituents, whether or not they're critical of his party's management of the issue.

"It's awful when people work and they don't get paid for their work on time, or they get paid too much and it's a surprise and they have to pay it back," Bagnell told Radio-Canada Sunday.

"Most people don't have a lot of extra money, they live often paycheque to paycheque and it's devastating if the paycheque doesn't come with the full amount in it … it has to get fixed up."

Bagnell said he's glad the government has dedicated extra money and people to fix these pay problems.

Stéphane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said the petition aligns with what his union has been asking for and is a good way to put pressure on the government for a quick fix.

2nd petition wants new system

Other examples of petitions sponsored by Liberal MPs include one that calls for adding Cree translation services in the House of Commons, calling for more childhood cancer research funding and another one to make National Aboriginal Day a national statutory holiday.

The other Phoenix-related petition was launched last week and hadn't yet reached 500 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. It's sponsored by Chilliwack—Hope MP Mark Strahl, a Conservative, on behalf of a resident from Chilliwack, B.C. 

It calls for the pay system to be abolished and replaced with a system that has been proven to work, to fix all pay problems and "to stop wasting" taxpayers' money.

The federal government has 45 days to respond to qualified petitions after their 120-day signature window closes and they've been tabled in the House by their sponsor.

With files from Florence Ngue-No